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Nearly 500 L.A. Unified employees lose their jobs for failing to get COVID-19 vaccine

 Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly speaks into a microphone.
The Los Angeles Unified School District fired about 500 employees who did not meet the COVID vaccination requirements. Interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly said the difficult decision ensures school safety amid the ongoing pandemic.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Nearly 500 Los Angeles school district employees have lost their jobs for failing to meet the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, officials announced on Tuesday.

The number represents fewer than 1% of about 73,000 employees, a compliance rate the school system characterizes as a success. The total of terminated employees is much smaller than feared. Seven of the dismissed employees held teaching credentials, although officials did not indicate whether any of them were classroom teachers.

“We care deeply about all of our employees,” interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly said. “Parting ways with individuals who choose not to be vaccinated is an extremely difficult, but necessary decision to ensure the safety of all in our school communities. We wish everyone the best in their future endeavors and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

On Oct. 18, when the mandate took effect, 2,214 district employees either had not applied for or had not received an exemption. At that time, about 1,500 others had received an exemption — 175 for a serious medical condition or disability, and 1,325 for a “sincerely held religious belief.” Workers out of compliance were to receive pay through Oct. 31.

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An unknown number of workers remain in limbo while their requests for exemptions continue to be evaluated. Some administrators are also trying to find roles for unvaccinated workers that do not require them to be on campus or to interact with students or other employees. For some jobs — such as teaching assistants, cafeteria workers and building and grounds workers — remote work is impossible.

Other workers have turned to using sick leave and vacation or pursued an unpaid leave — trying to wait out the vaccine requirement.

But district leaders have shown no inclination of backing down.

“The science is clear — vaccinations are safe and effective, and are an essential part of the multilayered protection against COVID-19,” the district said in a statement. “They help reduce the chances of getting considerably sick and dying from the virus. Los Angeles Unified continues to provide access to vaccines for employees and every eligible student.”

The terminations come at a time when the district is having trouble finding enough qualified workers to fill positions at all levels. That’s one reason the district left the door open as it tries to fill well over 1,000 vacancies.

“If separated employees do get vaccinated, they may be eligible for reemployment,” officials noted in the district statement.

Classroom teachers — an especially urgent need — have been able to receive accommodations for the most part, especially because there were openings for most of them at City of Angels, the district’s independent-study program. City of Angels has enrolled students who are not ready or not able to return to in-person classes. City of Angels has struggled with an unstable and short-handed teaching staff. More than 500 of the unvaccinated teachers were transferred to City of Angels to oversee the 16,000 students currently enrolled.

There are likely to be even more teachers needed for City of Angels.

About 34,000 students have not yet complied with the district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students 12 and older — and there’s no longer enough time for students who have not gotten their first shot to be fully vaccinated by the Jan. 10 start of the second semester.

The high number of students who will not be able to meet the full inoculation deadline is likely to force difficult decisions on leaders of the U.S.’ second-largest school system, which has enacted among the strictest vaccine mandates in the nation. Students who are not fully vaccinated — or exempt — will be forced into independent study or will have to leave the public school system.

L.A. Unified was among the first school systems in the nation to require employees to be vaccinated. The Oct. 15 deadline prompted a last-minute surge among thousands who were hesitant. There’s also a pending lawsuit challenging the employee mandate.

The 496 district employees who’ve been dismissed do not include those who work at charter schools authorized by L.A. Unified, which also are required to follow the vaccine mandate. Teachers at these schools did not have the immediate opportunity to transfer to the City of Angels program.


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